Students support Standing Rock Indian Reservation using social media

Cameron Gorman

The battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline — involving North Dakota’s Standing Rock Sioux Reservation —  has made an impression on social media this week, even with Kent State students.

Protests are heated in Standing Rock because the pipeline cuts through an area of land close to the reservation.

The pipeline, which — according to its website — is planned to be finished by the end of 2016, and would be a 1,172-mile route for crude oil from North Dakota to be transported to Illinois.

Jordan Roach, vice president of Kent State’s Native American Students Association, said the pipeline is a direct violation of the rights of of the Oceti Sakowin camp.

“The state of North Dakota is not only violating the (rights of the) people living … to live healthy lives, but also the sovereignty of the the Sioux Nation,” Roach said. “This is a direct violation of Article 2 of the Fort Laramie Treaty written in 1868. So it is both morally wrong and also technically illegal.”

The pipeline will be built directly underneath the Missouri River, sparking concerns over leaks from environmentalists and others who use the water — but the issues don’t end there. The path of the line also cuts through land that is sacred to the tribe it belongs to.

“I think this is an issue with multiple intersections,” Roach said. “While this land is sacred to the Oceti Sakowin people, people also need to know that this pipeline is going to poison the water supply of both the Standing Rock Sioux tribe reservation and the reservation directly below it, Cheyenne River.”

Roach added that it’s a lot of people whose quality of life and health will be adversely affected.

“Pipelines leak. No matter what, (Dakota Access Pipeline Guard) is going to literally endanger the lives of the Oceti Sakowin people,” Roach said.

Those who disagree with the pipeline cannot all travel to the reservation to protest — but they are finding other means of support through social media by pinning their “location” on Facebook to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

“I can’t give them money because I’m a poor college student,” said Julia Ryan, a sophomore history major. “But if checking in is something I can do to show that I support them, I’m going to do that.” 

Ryan added that a majority of the content on her newsfeed lately is “nothing but the election.”

She has noticed that she hasn’t really seen either Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump talk much on the issue.

“Hillary hasn’t said anything, but Trump has said things like he’ll approve big construction projects like that,” Ryan said. “People — they’ve been kind of keeping quiet on it, and aside from, say, (Vermont Sen.) Bernie Sanders and (Massachusetts Sen.) Elizabeth Warren saying something, it’s not repeatedly popping up in the news.”

“Checking in” to Standing Rock on Facebook was originally thought to be able to confuse the Morton County Police Department in North Dakota, as it had been rumored that the department was using Facebook check-ins to determine who was protesting in order to arrest them.

The department, however, issued a refutation of the rumor in a Facebook post on Monday, stating: “In response to the latest rumor / false claim circulating on social media we have the following response: The Morton County Sheriff’s Department is not and does not follow Facebook check-ins for the protest camp or any location. This claim / rumor is absolutely false.”

Not all are convinced.

“Honestly, just because the sheriff’s department has come out and explicitly said, ‘We’re not doing that’ —everybody has Facebook. Any crazy with any intent against this could easily find out where people are,” Ryan said.

Still, those posting about the pipeline and checking into the reservation, like Ryan, feel it is a show of solidarity for the protestors.

“I checked in, and said I stand in solidarity, because I do,” Ryan said. “Then after I had checked in, I started to really read a lot more (about it) because what I’ve been realizing is it seems almost like there’s a media blackout on this.”

The message is being sent clearly for those who oppose the pipeline, with the hashtag #NoDPL rising to prominence on social media.

“Any solidarity with indigenous people is a beautiful thing to witness,” Roach said. “As an Indigenous woman I wish there had been more of this kind of access to see grassroots support during previous movements. It does my heart good to see that people care about our people and communities.”

President Barack Obama recently reported that the Army Corps is considering rerouting the pipeline.

“Nobody wants to report to the public that it is our government that is directly in the wrong in this case. Water is life, and if this essential part of the people’s land is damaged, then so too are their lives, irreparably harmed by something that is preventable,” Roach said.

Roach added that she feels the the American public could end up feeling very guilty if they did not move to protect these lives.

“Much like with Flint, Michigan, we would rather sweep the harsh reality out of our way than take responsibility and directly address what we have allowed to go on,” Roach said.

Cameron Gorman is a diversity reporter, contact her at [email protected]